In this election, democracy and voters’ rights matter

The Black Lives Matter movement stormed the country and injected itself into the minds of people across the nation to point out a change was imminent. If change were to come, it had to be from the everyday person. 

Now with the 2020 Presidential election among us, citizens will have the chance to evoke change by voting. Though the U.S is in the grasps of COVID-19, an infectious and deadly virus, people are still being encouraged to go out and vote, even if it is by mail in some places.

Local community leaders are keen on making sure people are aware of what is being presented on the election ballot, but also monitoring that every eligible voter has their vote count. With the state of the world in uncertain times, it is important that all voters, especially minority voters, are guaranteed the right to vote.   

“Elections and the right to vote are foundational to our democracy,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this year. “No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote. Mail-in ballots aren’t a perfect solution for every person, and I look forward to our public health experts and the Secretary of State’s and the Legislature’s continued partnership to create safer in-person opportunities for Californians who aren’t able to vote by mail.”

Newsom wanted to make sure Californians could “exercise their right to vote in a safe and accessible manner.” Which is why he issued an executive order to protect public health by mailing every registered voter a ballot ahead of the November election.

In cities across Southern California,  local leaders have been putting efforts into making sure people have the right knowledge about the election and to ensure their ballot makes it to the ballot box.

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For instance, the South El Monte (SEM) City Council has posted election information directly on the front page of their websites so residents can easily access it. Residents can see who is running and what propositions are available. As a prominently Mexican and Hispanic community, the city made efforts not to overlook this demographic by allowing translations of all the election documentation. 

“We have made sure the information for people in the city to have easy access to it,” Donna G. Schwartz, SEM Certified Municipal Clerk, and election official said.

Other cities such as La Puente have been committed to doing the same by getting people to complete the census and also pushing for residents to vote. Another area heavy with minority voters, La Puente Mayor Charlie Klinakis understands the struggles these individuals have to encounter in order to cast their ballot. 

“I have a firm understanding of what the minority population goes through,” Klinakis said in an email to News4usonline. “We have made an effort to educate our minority population on the value as of why they should vote. We post in several languages and have made it super easy to vote.”

This effort is important for Klinakis. One of the issues that he has encountered is people who are able to vote don’t fully understand their vote power. One thing Klinakis said he has noticed is a bad trend among voters who did vote but had someone else fill in their ballots out for them because they are unsure of who or what to vote for.

“My response is always the same, shame on you,” Klinakis said. “You have the same rights as anyone else in this country. You have an obligation to get informed and understand the issues.”

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In relation to advancing voter outreach and that people get their ballot to the poll by any means necessary, Carson Mayor Albert Robles is proud that his city will be hosting a voting center. Residents can walk in up until the end of the election and register to vote, drop off their ballots, and have a new ballot printed if their original was lost or damaged.

“Carson is home to one of the most diverse places in not only the state but nationwide,” Robles said in a message to News4usonline. “All the information we disseminate is geared towards improving minority voter turnout.”

The City of Carson website has a variety of voting information including the new district maps to find out what district people live in, a tracking ballot feature, where to locate official vote by mail drop boxes, information about Measure K, and a 2020 General Municipal Election FAQs.

“We are in the business of enfranchising voters, not disfranchising voters,” Robles said.

As much as helping votes matter, informing the people on what is on the ballot and attracting new voters is also a priority. 

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, executive director of the Mervyn Dymally African American Political & Economic Institute (MDAAPEI) on the campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) has been analyzing the voting tactics and is approaching the election differently by not only looking at the presidential election but also the propositions that are being presented. 

The institute conducted a contingency awareness study two years ago and saw that the quality of life ballot measures were not getting much attention. Due to the presidential election, district attorney and county supervisors’ election races, people tend to not look at the statewide and local ballot measures in detail, Samad said. 

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“People say they don’t understand why things don’t change, it’s because they sleep,” Samad said in a Zoom interview. 

Currently, there are propositions similar to those at the time of the study such as rent control. Samad is hopeful that with a high voter turnout, the initiatives will do better in this election cycle. 

“Not enough attention is being given to the ballot initiative as they should be,” Samad said. “Since we are going to have a spiked election, meaning we are going to have an extraordinary voter turnout, it is very possible that those qualities of life initiatives could pass this year if folks are informed.”  

The reason why Samad is worrying about something like this is because of new or non-frequent voters who may find it a hassle to vote in person or going through the mail-in ballot channel. He explains that there is a historical value to voting in person and put it as the “contact sport” of politics, which is why people may be turned away. 

“A lot of people use it as a reason not to vote; they don’t want to inconvenience themselves, they want to get in and out,” Samad said. “If they can’t get in and out, particularly people that work, then oftentimes they just won’t vote. If they don’t know what’s going on in the ballot, they just won’t vote. So those are the people, the infrequent voters that we have to pay attention to.” 

Trying to keep everyone informed about the election has been the priority for community leaders as well as elected officials, but there have been some issues with gathering votes, Robles said. 

“I believe that fear tactics are used when those in power are threatened,” Robles said when asked about attempts of keeping people from voting. “With such an important presidential race on the ballot this year, we have to ensure that every person who wants to vote does get the opportunity to have their vote counted. That is the true definition of a democracy.”

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In parts of Orange County, the California Republican Party has been putting out ballot boxes that are labeled as official ballot collection locations. The boxes which have no connection to the state of California were deemed illegal as there was no official announcement from the party.  California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Xavier Becerra, the state’s attorney general, sent a cease and desist letter to the California Republican Party, to try to put a muzzle on the illegal election activity.  

“Despite their client’s rhetoric in the press, we’ve been in communication with legal counsel for the California Republican Party and they have committed to a number of significant concessions in their ballot collection activities,” Secretary of State Padilla said in a released statement. “Among other things, they will not make available or condone the use of unstaffed, unsecured unofficial ballot drop boxes. This is an important step in stopping the voter confusion created by their ballot collection activities.”

A case was filed to investigate the party’s intention on why they decided to put out the boxes, but a Sacramento judged denied any further investigation as long as the votes gathered are counted and not tampered with. 

“The California Republican Party will continue to help Californians vote safely and securely by continuing to gather ballots in trusted places, and deliver them promptly according to law,” Hector Barajas, a party spokesman, said in a written statement.

Worrying about what will happen to these votes is important because ballots can be stolen, misplaced, or forged. Though these are the most obvious reasons, havoc has already hit Baldwin Park when an official LA County ballot box was set on fire with at least 100 ballots inside, according to authorities.   

“People are frustrated across the country, it’s no different in Baldwin Park,” Balwin Park  Mayor Manuel Lozano said in a statement. “The incident that happened does send a very bad message, as it is, the frustration with the voting box and then this occurs.” 

The FBI has now gotten involved in the Baldwin Park incident, which is being suspected as a case of arson. However, official details have not been released as of yet.

At this moment people will still be pondering what to write down on their ballot. Some people have already sent their ballots through the mail. Many other voters will wait until Nov. 3 to get their “I Voted” sticker.  Then there will be those who will not vote.

Samad said it best, “democracy only works when we are engaged.”

Feature image appears courtesy of Professional Association of Milwaukee Public Education 

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